But operating beneath this glossy, enjoyable surface is a very complicated world filled with intelligently conceived advances and retreats. From the contents of a 208 page book, one could excavate more than a few doctoral theses on various aspects of Doctorow’s Bitchun Society. For current computer geeks, Doctorow sprinkles his prose with just the right number of Unix-derived terms. For sociologists, Doctorow has constructed a fascinating society where the currency is the respect you receive from those who know you. For futurists, Doctorow has offered up a gleaming utopian vision utterly unlike those of other cyberpunk authors. For anybody who has ever had to backup or restore their computer’s files, he offers heaven itself. For all the simplicity and limpidity of the narrative, there’s a very complex stew of ideas bubbling just underneath Doctorow’s sunny story.
‘Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom’ is a novel of ideas. It shares more in common with the work of Stanislaw Lem than with William Gibson. Cheap laughs and deep thoughts jostle one another, having a swell time as the reader enjoys the painful revelations that await Jules. Doctorow covers a lot of conceptual ground in a small space, and he makes something that’s rather complex look ridiculously easy. But don’t try this at home kids. You may injure your brain. If you’re not backed up, then you might not be able to recover. We may think we’re bitchin’ — but we’re not Bitchun yet, not by a long shot.